India announced a 15-member squad for the much-awaited World Test Championship final after a simulation game in Southampton. While the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, and KL Rahul have not been included in the final list, the trimmed squad still gives the No.2-ranked Test side a lot to ponder upon. And especially, to figure out the bowling department that has a lot of varied options.
The Southampton factor
The Ageas Bowl in Southampton is the second most spin-friendly venue in England after Headingley. Although spinners have taken only 41 wickets, the average of 34.5 is quite good from an English pitches perspective. Of course, pacers have more wickets there but not as many as they have in other English venues - The Oval in London only triumphs that on average. That gives India a solid reason to field both Ashwin and Jadeja for the Southampton showdown.
However, with Kohli, Rahane, and Pant at #4, #5, and #6, how would India field both the spin-bowling all-rounders? Thus it brings a question of equitable balance - with Jadeja being trusted upon as a proper batsman ahead of Hanuma Vihari. India’s only true three-dimensional player in all three formats, Jadeja brings in that left-handed factor to give India the variety.
Ashwin’s evolution as a bowler since that Australia series and his improvement as a batsman will help India as well. New Zealand have three left-handed batsmen in their top five - Tom Latham, Devon Conway, and Henry Nicholls - who can be targeted by Ashwin’s off-spin barrage. Sunil Gavaskar, a part of Sky’s commentary panel, revealed that Southampton has been really hot in the last few days which might lead to spinners playing a bigger role than ever before in England. It will keep the team management interested.
The pacer dilemma
India have Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, and Umesh Yadav in their Final XV but it is still difficult to presume who will miss out. Such has been the prowess of this pace-bowling line-up and the X-factor that they bring to the table than the one who is left out has all the reasons to feel disheartened.
Bumrah is a lock and to an extent, Ishant is too because of his lanky stature and the previous success in English conditions. But who will get the nod for the third pacer’s slot is the key here. The contest will eventually boil down to Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, with the former having an average of 47.04 in England. It is not an ideal scenario but his best performance in the British isle came in Southampton where he scalped four wickets in the first innings to bundle England out under 250.
However, if reports are anything to be believed, Siraj has been in excellent touch since the simulation game a couple of days ago and that might interest India to hand him a place in the side. But one thing is perhaps clear that Umesh Yadav is set to miss out.
The Rain impact
Southampton has been dry over the last week or so but weather.com predicts there is heavy thunderstorms possibility across all six (including reserve day) days of the Test. In such a scenario, playing two spinners might be a challenge. Given Jadeja picks himself because of his batting ability, will India take the difficult decision of dropping Ashwin for the WTC final and pick both Shami and Siraj instead? Your guess is as good as mine.
India Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav.